Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rye Crisps -- Variations on the rye theme

So today I tried a modified version of my quick rye bread recipe, which is proving absolutely outstanding. One potential benefit is that it's lower in gluten than the other version. Rye isn't gluten-free, so this isn't a gluten-free bread, but the other flours here are fine for gluten-free diets, so maybe this could be good for people who are looking to reduce their gluten consumption but can still have some in their breads. I'm only now learning a little bit about gluten sensitivities, since my sister, Ms Scrumptious, visited me a couple weeks ago.

Here's the ingredient list:

Quick Whole Grain Rye Bread:
* 2 cups organic nonfat milk
* 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
* 4 Tbsp. unsulphured blackstrap molasses
* 3 cups rye flour
* 1 cup buckwheat flour
* 1/2 cup quinoa flour
* 1 cup rolled oats
* 2 tsp fennel seeds
* 3 tsp cumin seeds
* 2 tsp sesame seeds
* handful (about 1/2 cup) raw sunflower seeds
* 3 tsp. baking powder
* 1 tsp. baking soda
* 1 tsp sea salt

Follow the basic directions I outlined before, including the salt and sesame and sunflower seeds with the dry ingredients.

Divide the dough in half when it is holding together nicely after kneading. This recipe makes two loaves.

For a rustic round loaf like the one above (gorgeous for little open-faced avocado sandwiches) follow the directions for shaping it in my original recipe. For delicious rye crisps, excellent for a Southern-European-style mezze with eggplant caviar, olives, salty Bulgarian feta cheese, etc., press the dough into a small rectangular loaf that is relatively flat, about an inch thick.

When the dough cools, you can slice it thinly, and toast it or bake it for lovely rye toasts for parties. Mmmm. I need to work on getting the sesame seeds to stick on top, though.

I baked the little guys for about 12 minutes on each side to yield right around 25 crispies that look quite a bit like thin biscotti, only they're savory.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rye bread revisited

I have tried my hand again with the quick rye bread. This time I doubled the recipe, and upped the fennel and cumin seeds I used in the dough, skipped the sugar, and used just 2/3 the amount of molasses. It's lovely and still sweet without being overly so. I also sprinkled the top with coarse French sea salt, yielding a result that looks almost like a giant gingerbread cookie.

I think I'll add a little salt to the recipe next time I make it, perhaps 1/2-1 tsp in with the dry ingredients, especially if I don't use the coarse salt on top again.

I have to reiterate how delicious the bread is with fresh avocado. Now that I had a ripe one, I couldn't resist making a simple, delicious sandwich with just sliced avocado and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a turn of fresh-cracked black pepper.

Here it is in the oven. . .

Now that I knew how sticky the dough would be, I was prepared with extra flour, and the kneading went considerably more quickly than last time. I seriously got the loaf in the oven in right around 10 minutes. Not bad for lovely fresh-baked bread.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Farm Fresh Eggs

Ms Scrumptious has finally recounted the adventure of buying eggs in the country around here in Michigan, a story I've been meaning to tell for ages. It delights me every single time I pull off the road onto the gravel drive behind an old farmhouse, wave hi to the cats and dogs and horses, and help myself to the eggs offered in a mini-fridge on the honor system. Thanks for sharing the photos and the story, Ms Scrumptious! And thank you so much for the wonderful visit, too. :)

(This has been an In My Box/Kitchen Empress crossover post!)

Quick Rye Bread Recipe -- Easy step-by-step guide with photos

As I learned from Alton Brown recently in his episode on muffins, the term "quickbread" distinguishes this class of breads from those that rely on yeast for leavening, since quickbreads generally use baking soda or baking powder for leavening and therefore do not require rising time.

The quickbreads most of us are familiar with are the sweet, fruity ones, like muffins and banana bread. Somewhere I happened upon a recipe for rye quickbread in the past few days, though, so I felt inspired to try my hand at another type of whole-grain loaf that didn't depend on yeast. I was craving bread today and didn't want to wait several hours before I could eat it fresh from the oven, steaming and crusty and spread with fresh organic butter. As I am writing this post, I smell the sweet, delicious scent of molasses-rich rye bread baking in the oven, and I know this is going to be a winner.

This is a modified version of a recipe I found on the veggieboards (here). It yields a delicious result in just over an hour from start to finish: dense, moist, and sweet with molasses. I would recommend it especially for avocado sandwiches, as suggested by the original poster, to accompany fresh salad and soup, or perhaps as the sandwich bread for a simple ham & cheese. Umlud and I are probably just going to devour it plain with some sharp cheddar cheese. It bears a little resemblance to the flavor & texture of the yummy fresh-baked bread we used to get with salads at Intermezzo in Berkeley.

Hunks of cheddar cheese with delicious, wholesome molasses-rye bread. So hot from the oven, the steam blurred the photo. . . :)

Quick Rye Bread
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 1 hour

  • 1 cup organic milk or soymilk
  • 1-1.5 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. organic brown sugar (optional; I think I'd omit.)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsulphured molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups rye flour
  • 1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp. caraway seeds (I used 1/2 tsp fennel seeds and 1.5 tsp cumin seeds, since I didn't have caraway, yielding an Indian-spiced bread delicious with cheddar cheese)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • additional whole wheat flour for kneading
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, sour the milk by adding in the vinegar, waiting a couple minutes, stirring, and adding a splash more of vinegar if necessary.The milk will be thick and a little chunky, sort of like yogurt or buttermilk.
  3. Stir in the molasses and sugar, if desired. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, all-purpose flour, oats, caraway seeds, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the milk mixture and stir well. Your dough will be rather sticky.

    Photos courtesy of Umlud, mostly.
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured bread board or countertop. A rubber spatula will help for scraping out stubbornly sticky dough.
  6. Knead until the dough holds together (2 to 3 minutes).
  7. If the dough remains very sticky, knead in a little more flour. Shape the dough into a round.
    As you'll see in this little video, courtesy of Umlud, the dough is really quite sticky. It would be handy to have extra flour at hand to bind all the dough together and remove it from your hands.

  8. Place it on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and finish shaping as necessary, flattening and rounding until you have a satisfactory-looking rustic loaf. Bake until crusty and well browned (about 1 hour).
The Kitchen Empress is applying for her very first professional baking gig. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Local sources for raw goat and cow milk in Livingston County, Michigan

Above, goat and proud owner at the Chambers family farm in Pinckney, Michigan. Image from Heavenly Dairy.

As I was recently raving about in Our Lady of the Lakes, I have recently discovered sources for local goat and cow milk in Livingston county, Michigan.

The lovely folks at Garden Patch Farms have pointed me to a local goat herder at Heavenly Dairy in Pinckney, and an organic bovine dairy in Cohoctah Township called Dairy Delight, both also in Livingston County. :) In the words of Kris Unger of Dairy Delight: "We disasterized the food system," she said. "How dare the government tells us we can't drink raw milk."

I'll follow up with a visit to the farms and photos sometime soon!!

By the way, Jim Wallace has compiled a helpful online list of local sources for raw milk, in case you're interested but don't live here in Michigan. There's another list available here.

And Dr. Mercola just wrote a couple pieces on the politics and trials and tribulations of organic dairy farming, including some information on the health aspects of organic dairy consumption, and one on weight loss and milk consumption.

Step-by-step illustrated breadbaking guide

Delicious, homemade whole wheat bread with crunchy hints of cornmeal and 10-grain cereal.

Recently, in Our Lady of the Lakes (my personal blog), I was waxing philosophical about bread baking. Though I've been making quick breads frequently for many years, it hasn't become a regular practice for me to bake yeasted breads up until recently. It's a combination of interest in cooking, desire for delicious homemade bread, concern for health, stress relief, and budgetary reasons* that compel me to make my own breads.

Under regular circumstances I don't have the time to do so as a doctoral student juggling papers, meetings, and teaching responsibilities, but the spring term brings some extra time. Now that I am becoming more comfortable with the process, though, I find that it isn't nearly as time-consuming as it can seem. If you're doing work from home, taking a break to knead or punch down a dough can be fun and very relaxing. Also, contrary to popular understanding, baking yeasted bread really isn't difficult, as long as you have a clear sense of the appropriate proportions and the stages involved. Recently I've made several variations including leftover rice, sweetened condensed milk, cream, and a variety of other things I had leftover and needed to clean out of the fridge. All of them have been exceptional.

As I explained in my post a few weeks ago, I bake from the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown, which lays out the directions in easy, clearly explained steps with images, perfect for beginners. Here are a few photos of my process, making a nice sweet whole wheat loaf with molasses, whole milk, and a hint of cornmeal and multi-grain cereal.

I opted to make 3/4 of Brown's general whole wheat bread recipe, yielding three nice loaves. I only took the photos later in the process, after the second rising. I turned the nice dough out on a floured board, cut it into three roughly evenly sized pieces, and began the final kneading and shaping of the loaves.


I. For the sponge:
  • 6 cups lukewarm water (subsitute a portion with milk, if desired)
  • 2 tablespoons yeast (2 pkgs)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup honey or brown sugar or molasses
  • 2 cups powdered milk (I omit, using regular milk instead)
  • 7-9 cups whole grain flour
    -- Brown calls for whole wheat flour, but I generally use a mixture including whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur brand), buckwheat, spelt, and rye flours, and about a half-cup each of whole-grain cornmeal (polenta) and 10-grain cereal from Bob's Red Mill (the 10-grain cereal contains: whole grain wheat, whole grain corn, whole grain rye, whole grain triticale [wheat], whole grain oats, soy beans, whole grain millet, whole grain barley, whole grain brown rice, oat bran, flaxseed)
II. For adding after the sponge rises:
  • 2.5 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2-1 cup fat (oil, butter, etc; I often use almond or other nut oils with beautiful results)
  • 6-8 cups additional whole wheat flour
  • 2-3 cups whole wheat flour (for kneading)

Directions (I still recommend Brown's book for more complete explanation)

I. Make the sponge.
  1. Dissolve yeast in the water.
  2. Add sweetening and powdered milk.
  3. Stir in the flour until a thick batter is formed.
  4. Beat all these ingredients together well with a spoon, about 100 strokes.
  5. Let rise for 60 minutes.

  1. Fold in salt and oil.
  2. Fold in additional flour until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Knead for about 10-15 minutes on a floured board, using more flour as needed until dough doesn't stick to hands or board.
  4. Place into an oiled bread bowl, and let bread rise for 50 minutes
  5. Punch down.
  6. Let rise 40 more minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).
  8. Turn the dough onto the board, shape into a ball, and cut into four even pieces. Shape into balls again, and let sit for five minutes.
  9. Now, shape your dough into loaves.

It's best, in general, to use a flat palm for kneading, pushing the dough forward with the weight of your whole body, centering the weight into the ball of the hand toward the end of the push.

Occasionally I also do a little punching, though. With a heavy dough like this one it can be easier to get it compacted this way, and it's a fun way of getting out aggression, too.

10. Once you finish the final kneading (about 5-6 rounds of kneading, folding in half, turning a quarter turn, and kneading again), it's time to finish shaping the loaves. Roll the dough into a little log shape, then proceed to pinch the seams together.

11. Then pat it into the form of a loaf, squaring off the edges.

(Action shots above courtesy of Umlud.)

12. Put the loaves into greased pans, and press down into loaf pan with flat fingers. (I actually have only one bread pan at the moment, so I typically make rolls or round loaves and just one rectangular loaf. Up top is the prettiest of the three that I made this time, a round loaf.)
16. Remove from pans and cool on baking rack.
13. Let loaves rise for about 20 minutes.
14. Cut slits into the top of the loaves, about 1/2 inch deep, to allow steam to escape.
15. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50-70 minutes, until the top is nice and golden brown. If you have differently shaped or sized loaves, they may need to bake different amounts of time.
17. Though Brown recommends letting it cool for an hour to ensure the slices are clean, I like to eat it right out of the oven with organic butter and organic strawberry jam. Sunspire makes a delicious one you can buy in a big jar at COSTCO for about $8, probably less than the cost of making it yourself in the height of berry season. (That is, unless you have access to berry fields where you can pick organic strawberries for $1 a pound, like Ms Scrumptious does at Eatwell Farms!)

*Even buying the highest-quality whole grain flours, I save considerably on the loaves. Comparable bread from local bakeries like Avalon or Zingerman's cost in the range of $7-10 for a fresh loaf, plus the cost of gas to and from the market, no small factor for those of us living in rural areas, as Wise Bread points out. In the winter, I also heat up my kitchen with the gas oven, reducing the heating required in the house.